VC Ministries of Faith - Serving veterans through the love of Christ
It was during the First World War. Shells were bursting all around. Presently there was a black cloud as pieces of shrapnel came whizzing past.  Poor Burt fell like a log. Tiny Jim, (6ft.3ins -  190.5cms) jumped down beside him and then returned to  his place in the trench.
Suddenly there was a startled cry, “Can you tell me the way to heaven?” Tiny Jim jumped down again.  “The way to heaven? I’m sorry chum, I don’t know the way, but I’ll ask other fellows.”
He walked along to the next man and asked him, but he did not know. So he went on to the man beyond him, but he didn’t know either. He walked around the trench and inquired of a third man.  Then he went from one to another until he had asked seven men the same question, but none of them knew the way to heaven.
Leaving that part of the trench, he went onto the next.  His question was always the same, “Bert is dying.  He wants to know the way to heaven. Can you tell him the way?”
The machine-gunner was sitting alone with his gun, his eyes glued on the German lines. The gunner felt a thump on his back and then heard a voice shouting, “Gunner, there is a chap in our company who has been hit.  He’s dying and he wants to know the way to heaven. Can you tell him the way?”
The machine-gunner turned around and a smile lit up his face as he replied. “Yes.” He said, “I know the way, but I cannot get along the trench. I dare not leave my gun. But wait.”  Thrusting his hand into his pocket, he pulled out a little New Testament. Quickly turning over the pages, he said, ,”Look there, chum, this is the way to heaven, that verse there, John 3:16. I’ll turn the leaves back, you put your thumb on that verse and tell him that is the way to heaven.”
Quickly, Tiny Jim rushed back.  He jumped down beside Bert, who lay so still for a moment he thought he had gone.  He touched his shoulder.  “I’ve got it Bert,” he exclaimed.  “Here is  the way to heaven, John 3:16. ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Poor Bert’s eyes were wide open now.  He was drinking in every word.  What a scene it was – Tiny Jim kneeling at the bottom of the trench, his great hand holding the little testament, the tears running down his cheeks, reading again and again those life-giving words in the ears of Bert.
A look of peace came over the dying man as he kept gasping out “whosoever”.  After a bit, he lay quiet and still again. Tiny Jim called out, “Look chaps!” And there was Bert.  With one last great effort he had raised himself up.  He seemed to be gazing at the little piece of blue sky just visible from the trench.  His hands were stretched toward it.  His face lit up with angelic glory and, with one last gasp he called “whosoever”, and fell back dead.
Yes. Bert had found the way to heaven.  What a change! One moment in a trench on the battlefield the next with Christ.  What about you? Have you too, found the way?  If not, read the verse again.  It is the greatest verse in the Bible.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
God does not love our sin, but He loves us no matter what we have done,  no matter how great our sin and He will always love us.
It was because of us God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..........God could have rescued His Son, even from the cross, and yet He let Him suffer and never raised a hand to save Him.
Would you have done that? Could you have let your son suffer such excruciating agony, knowing full well that you had the power to rescue Him? Impossible!  But God did.  God allowed His Son to die when He could have rescued Him because He loved us so much.
Now it’s up to us to ask Him to forgive us of all our sin. Acknowledge He died for you and hand your life over to Him.

The darkened house was still. With a tinnie on the table and feet up on the recliner, my mind began to recall Mates, ‘over there,’ in Afghanistan. I missed them. Missed the camaraderie, the mateship, the teasing and to be honest the adrenalin rush of the sudden, often violent contacts with the Taliban forces.
The army had transformed a motley crew of men into a tight-knit group at the Recruit Training Battalion. Our service numbers had replaced our individuality and we’d gained names such as Blue, Tas, Lofty, Shorty and Cobber. I especially missed Cobber.
He was of solid build, hair the colour of ripened wheat and teeth that would bring honour to any toothpaste commercial. Not one for too much verbal interaction, he would rather watch and listen. He rarely displayed signs of frustration or anger and had an instant alertness when something grabbed his attention; an asset in any team.
He was the youngest of our group and when he goofed off now and again, we put it down to his immaturity and warned him that he would have to shape up or ship out. Perhaps it was because I was the eldest in our section that he gravitated towards me, and in time, I quite liked the idea of him as a friend. The other men noticed our budding friendship and made snide comments, but they were happy to leave me to the “Buddy System”. 
Notification arrived: “Posted to Afghanistan.” A land of contradictions; heat and snow, betrayal and support, desert and green plains, richness and down-right poverty. A land that had claimed and maimed Aussie lives and psychologically disturbed others.
With training and goodbyes completed, our C130 eventually touched down on a well used, barren airstrip at Taren Kowt, Afghanistan.  Cobber as usual found himself walking close to me; his head was on a swivel, rubber necking.  To be honest, I guess we all felt a little out of our comfort zone.
After settling and checking our accommodation and base lay-out, we proceeded to the sandbagged briefing room. The drones of low flying aircraft and helicopter rotors could be heard as we listened to the latest heads-up.
Heat, sand and sweat were permanent fixtures for our duration in this country.
We were soon off on our first patrol. Back pack, flak jacket, helmet, weapon, water, radio, medical aids and other paraphernalia that the modern soldier carries were hoisted on our backs and we were ready to roll. I tried to gauge the emotions of the men around me and as my eyes rested on Cobber, I wondered how he would go.  He caught my eye and stared straight back, perhaps he was wondering the same about me!
Our destination was some distant low hills. An almost invisible goat track meandered towards them and I watched Cobber intently. He was focused and alert. I felt relief, perhaps I need not worry about him. 
When Cobber, walking slightly ahead of us came to an abrupt halt, I nudged him and asked if all was OK. He indicated a small group of caves clustered into the side of a gully wall. I knew without him telling me they had to be searched.
“OK, Mate, I’m with you.”
The others spread out, alert and observing while we moved cautiously forward to our objective. Booby traps and IEDs* were foremost in my mind. Could this be a trap?
On entering, we waited till our eyes adjusted to the dimness, then took stock of our surroundings. Gnarled and twisted tree roots had penetrated the cave’s roof and hung down like ghostly fingers, small boulders and rocky ledges scattered the interior. Fully alert with sweat forming on my brow, I became aware of my escalating heart-beat pounding in my ears.  Cobber too looked to be on an adrenalin high.
I signaled to Cobber that his back was covered.  Slowly he continued forward to stop a short time later and indicated a hessian bag propped and partially hidden against the rocky wall. I gave him the thumbs up.
Carefully lowering myself to a kneeling position I heard a crack.  Was that my knees or the contents of this bag preparing to detonate?  Gently lifting one corner of the hessian I shone my torch into its depth.
Unbelievable! Our first mission and wed hit pay dirt!  The sack was filled with ammunition and a carefully wrapped IED*.
The Taliban would not be happy chappies!
With this discovery, Cobber gained a new level of respect by the same men who had their doubts during training and given him curry throughout, but now, even with his gung-ho attitude, he proved to be a valued member of our section. He was accepted. All the praise brought a new maturity in him and the talk of his apparent sixth sense to be so lucky in the first strike filled the mess for hours.
On another occasion when searching house by house an abandoned village, we sought for anything that was a destructive force in the hands of the Taliban. Cobber and I, working together, discovered a former animal shelter in a court yard. Old straw and food bins held nothing but cobwebs and the ever present dust. Cobber froze. 
“What’s up?”I asked.  He thought the floor of the animal shelter looked a bit suspicious.
By this time, I was beginning to trust his judgment more than my own! Warily, we began to shuffle through the old straw, not sure what we were looking for. 
Well what do you know? A false floor! We had uncovered explosives, mines and munitions which included mortar rounds.
“Cobber Mate,” I’d said, “Whatever the army pays you, it is not enough!”
On patrol, Cobber liked walking point. Not many argued for this position. We’d left the base before the sun of the hot desert reached its zenith to walk past a weaving sun-baked stone wall, on the other side of which, some nationals lived. It was too quiet, my mouth went dry and my gut instinct warned of danger.
When Cobber hit the ground, we followed suit.
He saved our lives.
Incoming fire, heavy and steady punctured the nearby ground. We covered Cobber with our returned fire as he crawled on his belly back to us. The hot contact was fast, furious but short lived.
We’d survived another day.
Under the stars of the cold desert night, I talked to Cobber. He heard of my hopes and dreams in life and I’d ask about his. He’d been born in New South Wales and had numerous siblings but had lost track of them. He’d been in foster homes, learnt many things in life, and ended up at the School of Military Engineers. He wasn’t sure what he would do when his tour was finished. Probably volunteer again!
Any soldier knows that in a war zone, you have to guard each other’s backs and because of this, strong bonds are formed; bonds that can last a lifetime. Soldiers share water, ammunition, rations and letters from home, confidences are given and received.  Cobber, I knew would watch my back, and I would watch his. No questions asked. We were there for each other.
We were an escort party to the Bush Masters that were driving to a new base further out from our compound. Our interpreter, Cobber and I walked forward in response to a radio message that a young girl was sitting in the middle of the road while all the heavy military traffic passed around her.  Silently, this scrap of a waif sat cross legged, her body covered by a dirty tunic. Shorty, our interpreter, explained the danger she was in, but she continued to sit, not moving. He finally asked why she was sitting on the road. Quietly she told him she had seen Taliban men burying something on the road and knew it was a bomb. She decided to sit beside it so that the good soldiers would not be hurt.
Ever seen tough soldiers cough to hold back emotions?
Checking out roads and special places became second nature.  Always alert, we knew our findings could save lives.  Cobber considered a roadside discarded tyre was not all that it seemed. On investigation we discovered an IED* device planted within it. 
The day dawned for our return to Australia. Our time in-country was up but I was devastated to learn Cobber would be staying on. I was gutted.  He was my best friend, my mate, a soul brother. What would I do without him? I would be only half the bloke I was, he had become my right hand, my eyes and my ears and now the system was separating us.
You see, Cobber was an EDD, an Explosives Detection Dog and I was his handler.
As I took the final long swig from my tinnie I muttered, ‘Where ever you are Cobber, keep safe Mate’.

*IED Improvised Explosives Device

Carla Evans
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